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18 Mar 2003 : Column 785—continued

Jim Knight (South Dorset): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy: I shall just finish this point and then of course I shall give way.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Oh! You will not give way to the person you accused. What a disgrace!

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must calm himself.

Mr. Kennedy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What makes this week so sadly ironic is that the very moment when the Bush Administration at last embraced the fresh urgency over the middle east peace process was the very time when they chose to abandon the UN route. Let us face it, having taken the decision to abandon the UN route, the sudden embrace of the middle east peace process with refreshed urgency arouses the suspicion among many that the two are not unconnected and, perhaps, that if they are willing to do one, they may be willing to abandon the other or to go lukewarm at a later stage.

Jim Knight rose—

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage) rose—

Mr. Kennedy: I shall give way to the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) first.

Jim Knight: I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, although it is tempting to ask why he gives way to some hon. Members and not to others. He pays tribute—rightly, in my view—to the Prime Minister for engaging with the United States, but he also believes that it is right to release them into isolationism, which makes progress on the middle east settlement less likely. Why is that?

Mr. Kennedy: I do not accept that thesis, and I shall explain exactly why. It is best summed up by the words

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used by Kofi Annan over the past few days. In the absence of a further explicit United Nations resolution, which is obviously the position in which we find ourselves, he remarked last week:

That raises very serious questions on which we should reflect. Only yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General said:

and the international support will be diminished. We are right to reflect on those considerations.

Mr. Robert Jackson: The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the question asked by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight). Having quite correctly praised the Prime Minister and the Government for the influence that they have exerted on the middle east peace process, will he please explain how his vote tonight will contribute to maximising British influence on that process?

Mr. Kennedy: I think that I have responded to that. It is best for the process to proceed through the auspices of the United Nations itself. If we undermine the legitimacy and authority of the United Nations, that cannot assist us in re-establishing the middle east peace process.

Although I have never been persuaded of a causal link between the Iraqi regime, al-Qaeda and 11 September, I believe that the impact of war in these circumstances is bound to weaken the international coalition against terrorism itself, and not least in the Muslim world. The big fear that many of us have is that the action will simply breed further generations of suicide bombers.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the reason for the failure of the United Nations and diplomacy is not the threat posed by the French, Germans, Russians, Chinese and the international community, but the American Administration of hawks and oil merchants who have no intention of finding—and no reason to find—a peaceful resolution to the crisis?

Mr. Kennedy: There is great anxiety in the country, especially about the more hawkish elements of the Bush Administration. If the people of this country were given the choice of whom they would prefer to vest their trust in, they would undoubtedly go for the present Secretary-General of the United Nations rather than the President of the United States.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy: No. I shall not give way now; I want to make progress.

Last night, the Foreign Secretary told the House that everyone knew what they were signing up to on

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resolution 1441. However, we should consider what the British and American ambassadors said when they secured that unanimity. The British ambassador said:

The American ambassador—his counterpart—said:

With China, France and Russia, as permanent members, not acknowledging that an automatic trigger has taken place, it is clear that people agreed to resolution 1441 on different bases. The historians will have to judge why that came about, but that is the position in which we find ourselves. To circumvent the continuing legitimate task of the weapons inspectors, who say, and who have been instructed unanimously in the name of the international community, our own countries included, that they should be given extra space, to cut that process short, will cause all the international disorder, tension and potential chaos that we are warning against and have been for quite some time.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy: No, I am about to conclude.

Before launching an almighty assault upon Iraq, is it not better to pursue the course of disarmament on the ground in the presence of weapons inspectors? No matter how sophisticated modern technology, even compared with at the time of the last Gulf war, is it not more precise to have weapons dismantled in the presence of inspectors rather than so-called precision bombing trying to take them out?

There is huge public anxiety in Britain. That is the mark of a fundamentally decent society. All of us, whatever our views, whatever our parties, know that the kind of people contacting us are very different from many of those with whom we deal regularly. They are the kind of people who say, "I have never contacted a Member of Parliament before," or "I've never been politically active before." They are the kind of people who have never gone on a march or attended a vigil before. Another significant point is that, whether or not they agree with the Prime Minister, only a tiny fraction ever call into question his sincerity in this matter. I have never done so and I do not do so today. But much as they detest Saddam's brutality, they are not persuaded that the case for war has been adequately made at this point, they are worried about the new doctrine of regime change, they are wary of the Bush Administration's motives, and they do not like to see Britain separated from its natural international allies.

The cross-party amendment is the correct amendment. It is tabled at the correct time, and, if passed, would send the correct signal. It is on those grounds that the Liberal Democrats will vote for it tonight.

2.12 pm

Alan Howarth (Newport, East): Anyone who has studied the document "Unresolved Disarmament Issues" provided by Hans Blix and the inspectors to the

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United Nations on 6 March cannot be in any doubt that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. It sets out the history of his deception and of his continuous and unrelenting attempts to build his arsenal. The requirement that must be placed upon him if he is to come into compliance is set out, as, glaringly, is the huge gulf between his compliance so far and what should be required. The document is scrupulous, sober and chilling. We cannot doubt that Saddam needs to disarm, but that he is failing to comply immediately, unconditionally and actively.

There is, of course, much disagreement about the tactics to bring him into compliance. The French, the Germans and the Russians have taken the view that a further series of inspections extending into the months ahead would be a satisfactory and plausible means to make the progress that is needed.

Lynne Jones: In that document, does not Hans Blix say:

He was asking for more time—months, not years, not days. Surely he understands his own document.

Alan Howarth: Hans Blix spells out the extraordinary complexity and difficulty of his task in 173 pages, and anyone who wants to make a judgment with any confidence needs to study that document. My hon. Friend has done so, as have I, and we disagree in our view of it.

Saddam has strung us along over many years and it is a sentimental view that says that a tyrant who has maintained his regime on the basis of violence is likely to capitulate to non-violent means. The position taken by France is unrealistic because we know for sure that Saddam Hussein is adept at spinning out the whole process, and he will never create a situation in which it will be possible for Hans Blix to come to the United Nations and say, "The process has failed; it has run into the sands." It was only on that basis that France said that it would be willing to contemplate war. It is also evasive because it is not fair or proper to require the inspectors—the officials, the technicians—to take the decision between peace and war. That decision has to be taken by politicians and in the Security Council.

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